HONG KONG – E-commerce workers who fed China during the coronavirus epidemic have enriched their billionaire bosses, so dissatisfied with their pay-treatment that one has set himself on fire in protest.
China’s internet industries were already known for long, demanding days. As millions of families are confined to their homes, demand continues to rise and workers supply large quantities of vegetables, rice, meat, diapers and other supplies, often on top of scooters that have been exposed to the cold of winter.
Salaries for white-collar workers in the technology industry are better than in some industries, but employees are often expected to work 12 hours or more.
E-commerce platform Pindududio has attracted public attention after the death of two employees, known for selling fresh products at low prices. Their deaths suggest that they were overworked. As an indication of high-level concerns, the official Xinhua News Agency sought shorter working hours, describing overtime as an “illegal” operation for long-term staff health costs.
New concerns about the horrific work situation of delivery drivers also surfaced when a video surfaced on Chinese social media showing what it said e-commerce giant Alibaba Group partner Elime’s driver and set himself on fire in protest. Wages
The controversy is a blow to the image of the Internet industry, which is transforming the Chinese economy and creating new jobs. They have created some of the richest entrepreneurs in the world. During the height of the epidemic, the most fortunate, including Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Pindududio founder Colin Huang, increased online consumer spending.
In a video widely circulated on Chinese social media, 45-year-old delivery driver Liu Jin set himself on fire outside a distribution station for Elim in the eastern city of Taizhou, shouting that he wanted his money. Others were taken to hospital after a blaze broke out, where he was being treated for third-degree burns.
The details of Liu’s allegations could not be verified and Eleme did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Separately, a 43-year-old delivery driver fell into a job and died last week while delivering food for Elim.
The company said in a statement that it would pay the driver’s family 1,000,000,000 yuan ($ 92,700) and increase its insurance coverage for drivers to that level. Its statement said Alem “has not done enough in the area of accidental death insurance, and more needs to be done.”
The issue was raised again when Tan, a Pindududio employee, committed suicide after taking leave from the farm to return to his hometown, less than two weeks after a 22-year-old employee broke down while walking home from work with colleagues, and later died. Go.
Pindudo, China’s third-largest e-commerce company, said in a statement that it was providing assistance and support to the families of the two dead employees. Shanghai authorities are reviewing working hours, contracts and other terms at the company.
The death sparked an uproar on social media, with many people suspecting that it was the result of overwork. Chinese social media users have not only criticized Pindududio for its long-standing culture, but also the similar company culture of China’s major technology companies, which has threatened the country’s technology sector by criticizing it as an industry-wide problem.
They also revived a national debate over the so-called “996” work culture in the technology sector, where employees work almost six days a week from 9am to 9pm. Companies sometimes offer huge bonuses to some employees, motivating them to do more work.
In a post on the microblogging site Weibo, the state-owned Xinhua News Agency said, “We must strive to succeed in pursuing our dreams, but the legitimate rights and interests of workers cannot be ignored or even violated.”
The issue also made clear about the working conditions of delivery drivers, who are under tremendous pressure to get fast orders from customers and reduce delivery by 10 yuan (1.5 1.55) from time to time. If they fail to meet the deadline, the fines imposed can range from 1 yuan ($ 0.15) to 500 yuan ($ 77.30) if a customer files a complaint.
As part of the gig economy, these national delivery workers often do not receive benefits offered to full-time workers such as social or medical insurance.
Since many people are willing to work under these conditions, it is difficult for employees to negotiate better pay and conditions.
Last August, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) – the only trade union allowed to legally attend communist-ruled China – said that .5.5 million delivery workers had joined it since 2018. But the labor rights group China Labor Bulletin, which identifies labor relations in China, says little has been done to improve the skills of workers seeking better treatment from companies. The union only provides skills training, legal aid and some medical facilities.
“Workers’ unions need to be more effective, otherwise labor laws cannot be enforced,” said Li Qiang, founder of China Labor Watch, another labor rights watchdog.
Under China’s labor law, workers should not work more than eight hours a day or an average of 44 hours a week. The total amount of overtime should not exceed 36 hours a month and should be done only “after consultation with trade unions and workers”.
However, although labor laws exist, they are rarely enforced because workers are preoccupied with the culture of working overtime while trying to earn a living, or in the case of delivery drivers.
Delivery workers are part of the corporate culture where white collar workers in the technology sector also work long hours, Lee noted.
“Employees who are not overworked cannot stay in technology or white collar jobs. Everyone is working overtime. If they do not work overtime, they will be fired, ”Lee said.
To make matters worse for workers, compensation clauses are sometimes written into workers’ contracts in some industries, depriving a company of jobs and liability for death for such incidents, says Li of China Labor Watch. Although such provisions may violate China’s labor laws, the legal system in China can be opaque and difficult to enforce.
“In Western countries, if an employee dies due to overtime work, the legal and economic costs will be higher and they are usually more restrained as the country’s laws will interfere,” Lee said. “However, there is no bottom line for overtime work in China and companies are not usually held accountable for deaths.”
Chen Si, an Associated Press researcher in Shanghai, contributed to this report.
Jane Sue, Associated Press